My Experience with God

My life with God began growing up in a Christian home and participating in youth programs at church. However, for whatever reason, I did not learn that walking with God meant a personal, intimate relationship with Him. Instead, I essentially saw Christianity as religion—that is working really hard to obey God so He will be happy with me. So I developed a list of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) that I tried to live by. “Don’t use bad language.” “Don’t do alcohol or drugs.” “Try to love others.” And, of course, “Don’t have premarital sex!”

Now, all of these are good rules to live by, but that was the problem—I was living by a list of rules. Rules without relationship is legalism, and very few people can live that way. Sure enough, by the time I went off to college at Pepperdine, I was ready to experiment a little.

The height of that experimentation came with a weekend trip to Mexico as a sophomore. The thing is I basically kept to my rules. I had some drinks, but the drinking age there is 18, so I was legal. I fooled around with a girl I brought down there, but I maintained some limits. You get the idea. My list of rules? I either pushed up against them as far as possible without violating them, or found convenient loopholes. When I returned to my dorm room and was finally alone, the Holy Spirit came to me and gently but firmly convicted me. I knew I was guilty before God even though I had technically kept my rules. Like Isaiah, I could say, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined!” I learned that to walk with God does not mean to try to live by a list of rules, but rather, to pursue intimacy with a person–to have relationship with God. I made a decision right there to seek God whole-heartedly, and my life has been different ever since.

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:20-22).

In the following years, I was truly being blessed by the Lord. He led me to a wonderful woman of God to be my wife, I graduated from Pepperdine and got a decent job in my field. However, after about a year of working, the Lord began to stir in our hearts to do something different than simply spend a lifetime accumulating wealth and living the American dream. I started seminary (graduate school for pastors) at Talbot (at Biola University), and my wife began teaching. We continued to learn to walk with God through the seminary years, and our family began with the birth of our first daughter in 1997. But to be honest, I was becoming puffed up with pride, learning to be a spiritual know-it-all. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

About the time I was finishing my seminary education, the Lord began to direct me to becoming a public school teacher rather than a pastor, so I began to take classes toward that end. At the same time, He began to humble our family through a series of trials. First, my in-laws divorced after 30 years of marriage. They had been pillars in their church and had done years of active ministry. We were devastated. Then, just a few years later, my parents, also active and influential members of a church, split up after 40 years of marriage. My wife and I began to seriously question God, as well as our own marriage. Both our parents had seemed happy, and then all of the sudden, it was over. God, do you have more than this?

Around the time of my parents’ divorce, we were blessed with our third pregnancy, a boy we named Michael. But during our ultrasound, the doctors discovered that Michael had a terminal birth defect called Trisomy 13–an extra 13th chromosome. The doctor called this condition “incompatible with life,” and we were advised to abort him (they call it “terminate the pregnancy”–sounds so clinical). My wife and I committed to place this in God’s hands to see what he would do. A large team of people began to pray for us, and God did miracles! The doctors said he would likely die during birth, if he even made it that far, because of a major problem with his heart. But after much prayer, the problem was no longer there when he was born. He still had major problems, including other heart problems, but after a week in the hospital, we actually took him home! But a week later his heart began to fail and it was back to the hospital. He lived another two weeks, his short life lasting only 30 days. His funeral was a great testimony to the Lord’s faithfulness, and several people came to faith in Christ through it.

Following Michael’s death, the Lord led me to donate a rocking chair to the NICU at the Kaiser Lakeview hospital where we had been. I placed a plaque on the chair, advising other parents that I would be praying for them. A few weeks later while up at Hume Lake, I was praying for moms and dads in the chair, and I grew frustrated with the formulaic nature of my prayers. So in my spirit I cried out, “Lord, show me how to pray!” Right then the name Monica Alvared popped into my mind. I had never heard this name before and didn’t know what to make of it. I assumed that God was showing me the name of a mom in the chair, but honestly, I was afraid to believe that God was that cool. A few days later my wife called down to a nurse we had befriended in the NICU, and sure enough, Monica Alvared was real. It was exactly as I thought. God was that cool! Like the Tijuana trip, this experience was a major turning point for me. He wants to speak to me directly! I began to pursue Him more earnestly.

A year later, we were struggling with the idea of getting pregnant again. I was wanting to go ahead, but my wife had to wrestle with the Lord for several months. It turns out there was good reason for her wrestling. She wanted a promise from God that our next pregnancy wouldn’t turn out like the last one. To borrow from The Silver Chair of The Chronicles of Narnia, she wanted to know if Aslan was safe. God isn’t safe. But he is good. My wife finally came to a place of trust like Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21).

At the time I didn’t believe her, thinking it was merely fear, but the Lord showed my wife that all would not be well. Just a couple weeks after our third daughter was born, my wife was diagnosed with aggressive cancer. Another round of suffering was upon us. Why Lord? I have since learned not to ask ‘Why, Lord?’ For, why not? He is not the author of disease. We have an enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. We live in fallen world. We are all going to suffer. Am I so righteous that I deserve an easy life? What a joke. I have repeatedly violated God’s standards, and it is His great mercy and grace that I have the life I do. The question to ask is not ‘why, God?’ but rather, ‘God, what are your purposes in this?’ Not that God sent the cancer, but he promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). He works even in the things the enemy does to us. He uses them to teach us, to discipline us. Why? Because of his great love for us.

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).

The Lord raised up a mighty army of people to care for us during the cancer treatment, and we got to see his great love for us. We had meals delivered to us three times a week for almost a year. We had gracious friends step up and do our laundry and our grocery shopping. We had hundreds on our prayer list. Our moms spent hours with our girls. The outpouring of love from the Church was remarkable. As I write this (in 2008), it has now been two years since the end of my wife’s cancer treatment, and there is no sign of its return. Thank you Lord!

Through each round of suffering, the Lord has brought us to new places of trust and intimacy with him.  He has disciplined the pride I placed in knowledge (Prov. 3:5-6).  I have partially learned to have a conversational relationship with God, where I hear His voice and (usually!) obey. And that life is full of joy, meaning, and significance. For more of what I have learned walking with God, see my series on Advice to the New (or old) Believer.

There is much more to say about how God is teaching me to have a heart of love rather than judgment (a work in progress); to set aside my own desires and live for his kingdom, knowing I will be glad that I did; to open my heart to my wife and my children; to trust Him to teach me how to be a good teacher; the list goes on and on. It is wonderful to walk with a loving Father!  Please pray that I am faithful to the calling he has placed on my life.

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  1. Connie Jones

     /  April 28, 2008

    David, I am overjoyed at reading your very honest and transparent testimony of your journey thus far. I do pray for your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical purity toward God first and to your family and those watching carefully how you walk. Be assured that God will keep you faithful to the call that He has put on your life however he may chose to do that. I praise God that you and Jen are committed to each other, God , your family and most important of all to the walk, call, and profession that He has called you to. Remember that He is faithful to bring about his plans in others lives that you care so much about, students, parents, family, friends, because God is not capable of being unfaithful to His Word. Thanks for sharing yourself with me and others who read these precious words from your heart.

  1. My testimony « In the Heights
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